There are many reasons for purchasing a motorcycle – power, freedom, convenience, celebrating the completion of a divorce – and of course, because they look the business.
Well, most do anyway. Unfortunately, some motorcycles aren’t born blessed with Instagram-ready aesthetics that look sharp and sexy in a gym mirror selfie.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… in most cases just the designer. So behold, motorcycling’s most eye-poppingly ugly motorcycles!
BMW R1200 C & CL
For a manufacturer so revered and popular, it’s surprising just how many aesthetically challenged models have emerged from the Munich marque’s factory doors over the years.
We have four models in this list as it is and we could have included models like the awkwardly proportioned K1 sportsbike that – in red and yellow anyway – looks like something Noddy would cruise through Toytown on looking badass cute. But, we eventually settled on the K1 having settled into its niche as a retro cult classic.
So instead we are calling out two variants of the immensely BMW R 1200 platform: the R 1200 C [above] and CL [top].
Similar in name, similarly oddball yet entirely different motorcycle propositions, the 2003 R 1200 CL just about gets away with its ungainly lines symptomatic of large tourers but there is frankly no excuse for the fussy front-end with its bug-eyed headlights that make it one-part motorcycle and one-part horrifying oversized spider bearing down on you in the mirrors.
The R 1200 C, meanwhile, may have played a starring role in James Bond’s Tomorrow Never Dies by proving nimble enough not to kill Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh but its bulges and ill-designed chrome features make it look like a half-finished aftermarket knock -off.
BMW F650 CS Scarver
Launched around the same time as the R1200 CL, the BMW F650 Scarver was clearly born from the same fever dream.
That means we have lumpy proportions and goggled headlights poking out of a squashed front fascia and chopper wheel trims, while the tall, slender proportions knitted together by panels of varying shapes and colors are ungainly from every angle.
Oddly though, while the name ‘Scarver’ doesn’t mean anything, it somehow inexplicably suits this motorcycle, don’t you think?
Who could forget the BMW C1?
With BMW having decided that the humble helmet ‘cruelly’ robbed riders the freedom of having the wind in your hair as you wince from your eye sockets being stretched while bugs get jammed in your teeth, the C1 is its response to a question that was indeed asked… except no-one really cared enough about the answer.
Endowed (and we mean ‘endowed’) with a tall, curved rooftop and feeling tall enough to make you think twice about passing under some bridges, the C1 looks like a rascal with a roll hoop on its comically tiny wheels and crumple-zoning beak at the front.
Ironically, regulations in various countries meant riders still had to use a helmet when riding the C1, removing its one redeeming feature among a host of irredeemable ones.
Bimota has a history of fairly discerning design touches – take the current KB4 and Tesi H2 for instance – but the Sacha Lakic-penned Mantra was less a daring vision of the future and more of a dribbling night terror.
Looking like a motorcycle wearing scuba diving gear, the Mantra is all swoops, creases and carvings that go in the opposite direction of where you’d expect them to go as though it had been constructed inside out.
Launched in the 90s, a fondness for the era in retrospect means the Mantra’s looks have mellowed somewhat. It’s still ugly but then so was crimped hair and double denim, but you still wear them for fancy dress parties now and again.
Which sums up the Mantra neatly as a talking point when you bring it out in public… just no more than once or twice a year.
I’m prepared to be trolled for this one but the Ducati 999 is a lesson in how not to restyle one of motorcycling’s most iconic designs.
Sharpening up the svelte lines of the 916 sportsbike was a mistake in many devotee’s eyes, so while the 999 still looked sporty and muscular, it was comparatively chunky and not as sexy.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Pierre Tereblanche threw in stacked circular headlights that made it look like an angry bug from the front.
Still, at least it was still a joy to ride from the most important angle of all… which just happens to be where you cannot see the exterior.
Another contentious one, the Suzuki Hayabusa design is as loved as it is loathed.
While we can excuse the high-speed tourer for its bulgy, mump-like exterior because it prioritizes form over aerodynamic function, you wouldn’t exactly call it beautiful.
The latest generation is certainly sharper and comes in more subtle paint-jobs as well but stops short of being a faithful re-imagining by instead being a safely played revamp for a design first penned in the late 90s.
Buell 1190 Super Touring
For a motorcycle that isn’t even out on sale yet – thus essentially making it a motorcycle of the future – the Buell 1190 SuperTouring is one of the most curiously dated-looking models in this list.
Currently on its third life having been revived from the depths of motorcycling’s gravest yards, Buell hits the road again late last year, led by an overhauled version of its aging 1190 RX sportsbike.
This – the 1190 SuperTouring – thus serves as its first all-new model from the ground up and, honestly, we’re not entirely sure what to think. Pitched as an all-American rival for the Harley-Davidson Pan America and BMW R 1250 GS, the SuperTouring touts some serious ambition… we’re just yet to see the evidence.
Appearing like an unholy successor to the similarly oddball Ulysses, you sense there is a ‘cool’ utilitarian, mold-breaking design in there only for Buell to attempt Picasso with nothing more than macaroni and glue
We’re trying to use our imaginations here but while we ‘get’ the dual-set headlamps are inspired by the XB12R, why then house them in a flimsy looking boxy cowl, or have vents that are unusually very visible on the side, or the upright screen that sticks out like an aftermarket cassette player jammed into dashboard of a ‘suped’ up Fiesta.
Revealed at the top of the year, the 1190 SuperTouring basically looks unfinished, which may go some way to explaining why the model has barely been since on Buell’s channels…
Back to the drawing board. Literally.
It’s very easy to hate on the Gilera CX-125 but – like the BMW K1 and Bimota Mantra – there is something actually quite pleasing about viewing a motorcycle so brazenly of its era through 2022 binoculars.
With the small capacity sportsbike class taking off in the late 80s and 90s, models such as the Honda NSR250 and the CX-125’s cousin, the Aprilia AFI 125 Sport Pro, have become collectors’ items three decades down the line.
Strangely, the CX-125 is also a cult classic but for entirely different reasons. Emerging from the same Federico Martini-housed mind that also bore the Bimota DB1, the Gilera CX-125 is brimming with nifty features, such as a single-sided swingarm that made the wheels look like they were floating from one side.
However, while the fullest-faired design served a purpose by being aerodynamic, it was hard to escape its Dustbuster on wheels appearance… an impression not exactly assisted by wheel trims on one side that mimicked plates you’d get from Halfords to replace the ones nickeled off your Vauxhall Cavalier.
Either way, it’s a weird thing having a motorcycle that is more attractive on one side than it is on the other… unless it’s in pink, because that’s 360-degrees awful.